Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.
42Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word. 43Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your ordinances. 44I will keep your law continually, forever and ever. 45I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts. 46I will also speak of your decrees before kings, and shall not be put to shame;
47I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them. 48I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. 49Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. 50This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 3They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
This a very familiar Psalm to me but I missed half of what it was trying to say until a conversation with my dad over Christmas revealed a new side of the Psalm. I had focused on the image of the believer as a strong tree, but not thought much about the stream. My dad helped me see that the stream is God’s word, God’s law.
The righteous person who makes God’s word his or her delight and meditates on it day and night is like a tree growing by a clear, flowing stream. The stream of God’s word strengthens and refreshes the tree constantly, making it grow strong and produce abundant fruit.
There are a couple of ways this Psalm is especially helpful for us. The first is that with a tree there is an expectation of growth and change. There’s no such thing as a tree that doesn’t change: it is either growing, putting out leaves, producing fruit, and then pulling back its leaves for the winter or it is withering, dying and decaying.
Too often we think of our lives as disciples and as a church in terms of maintenance: the goal is to stay the same. We think of children learning and growing, but once we “grow up” we don’t always expect to grow in our faith and knowledge from year to year. We all have ups and downs in our life, but overall, we should be stronger disciples with a fuller knowledge of scripture and a deeper commitment to Jesus next year than we are now.
We grow as believers because we are rooted in faith and community and nourished by scripture. The scripture we read in worship together isn’t enough water to grow very much. The Psalmist talks about the believer meditating lovingly on the word day and night; that’s a stream of water. The scripture we read in worship is more like carefully placed water from a watering can. It can nourish particular parts of the tree but it’s not enough water on its own.
I’m a little nervous about this image, but maybe the sermon is like fertilizer around the roots of the tree: it speeds up the tree’s growth but without enough water it’s not going to do much. Please don’t let the scripture we read together be the only scripture you read; you really can’t grow to your potential that way.
There are lots of reasons we don’t pick up the Bible on a daily basis, but it’s never too late to change. For one thing, the Bible is big and it can be intimidating. Maybe we’ve started reading the Bible before but stalled out because we didn’t know where to start or got bogged down in details.
Like a stream, the Bible’s different parts flow differently. Some parts, like Mark’s Gospel, flow quickly and offer an exciting ride. Other parts flow very slowly. Right now I’m just getting through the first half of First Chronicles in my own reading and I’ve had to row pretty hard to get through it. I know soon enough the pace will pick up again, but it’s easy to get bogged down when the pace slows. Some of the Bible is boring, but even those parts have something to offer. As a last resort, if you really can’t plow through something at a particular time it’s OK to skip that part and move on with the story.
Also like a river, the first time through the Bible we can get slowed down because we don’t know what to expect. When we hit a slow patch this voice inside our head tells us that the Bible is boring and we’re just going to get stuck. If we’ve read the Bible before we know the slow patches pass and we get back to good stories before long.
In addition to slow parts of the stream, there are rocks that can be dangerous. Lots of believers have been thrown off course or even shipwrecked by rocks like, “Wives obey your husbands.” Or, “Slaves, obey your masters.” The rocks are part of the river, but we have to be careful how we maneuver around them. There are parts of the Bible that still drive me nuts, but the whole stream together is nourishing.
There are other parts of scripture that confuse us, where we don’t understand what’s going on. Sometimes a study aid can help; other times simply reading a hard passage a few times over will bring some clarity. You can also always send me an email or give me a call to ask for help with something you’re having trouble understanding. I love the Bible and I’ll study or talk with you about it as much as you want.
Another thing that gets in the way of our regular Bible reading is the text itself. Many of us feel like we can’t understand it: we don’t know enough or the language is hard to read. That’s especially true if the Bible we have at home is the King James Version we had when we were kids.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the poetry and majesty of the King James; it’s the first Bible I read and I prefer some passages in that version. But it is not the easiest way to understand the Bible. We don’t use “Thee’s and thou’s” in our everyday conversation; English written in the 1500’s was very different from what we speak today and it makes it harder to see what the text is really saying. There are lots of versions of the Bible that are easier to understand and are every bit as accurate. If you’d like suggestions or a new Bible, just let me know. Every Christian should have a Bible at home that is easy for you to understand; if you don’t have one now, let’s fix that today.
Of course, the biggest thing that gets in the way of reading the Bible is that we all have busy lives. At the same time, we all make time to eat and many of us watch TV or movies pretty regularly. I know I spend more time on the internet than is absolutely necessary. Nourishing our spiritual life is just as important as physical nourishment. With a little planning it’s totally manageable to carve out 15 minutes a day for scripture.
A few changes can help. Since most of us spend time waiting for something if you keep a Bible with you waiting time can become Bible time. I have the Bible on my phone, and that’s made it so much easier to read scripture regularly. Or you could take a few minutes at the beginning of supper reading scripture together as a family. If you spend time in the car, an audio version might help a lot; some versions are even free. If you’re committed and creative you can find a way to read the Bible regularly and you’ll be surprised what a difference it can make in your life.
We’re exposed to all kinds of information and opinion every day. Whether we want them to or not, the voices we hear shape how we see the world. It’s important to make sure God’s word has a chance to shape us every day too. The more time we spend with the Word, the more God’s perspective guides us. If we only hear and read scripture on Sunday, we’re letting six/sevenths of our lives be shaped mostly by the culture that surrounds us; that’s a pretty scary thought. If we’re constantly nourished by God’s word we’ll grow stronger in our faith each day.
Every Christian should know the whole Bible. I don’t mean you should have it memorized, but you should have a basic and constantly growing familiarity with the whole story. If you haven’t read the whole Bible, make plans to change that in the coming year or two. Reading the whole Bible in a year is challenging, but doable. Depending on how fast you read committing 15-30 minutes a day will give you enough time to read it in a year. The key is consistency. Even if you have read the whole Bible, it’s important to keep up your reading. Many Christians read through the Bible each year; for others it works better to read a little less each day and get through it every two years. Other times it’s helpful to study particular parts in more depth.
If you’ve been a Christian for a while and are pretty familiar with scripture but haven’t read the whole Bible, I’d recommend reading the Old and New Testament together starting both at the beginning. I’ve got the first several month of a calendar for that if you’d like it and more will be coming as we continue the year. If you’re new to the Bible and to faith I would recommend starting with Mark’s Gospel to get to know the story of Jesus that is the heart of our faith. If you’d like I would be more that happy to meet with you so we can come up with a personal reading plan for you.
Part of my job as your pastor is to be a river guide for the stream of scripture. I can let you know when you hit a slow patch that you’ll get through it; maybe I can show you a few points of interest to enjoy during the slow parts. I can also help you figure out how to get unstuck in muddy parts or how to avoiding landing on the rocks too hard. I love it when people come up to me with questions about something they’ve read in the Bible.
If you use me as a river guide, you’ll find lots to enjoy and nourish you in the stream of scripture; if you count on just our worship watering can, you won’t get enough water to grow. Of course, the point of growing in faith isn’t just to be strong for ourselves; it’s also to bear fruit for God and for other people. The strong trees planted by streams of water bear fruit in their lives that feed those in need. As we grow stronger as disciples and as a church nourished by scripture we will make a difference for those around us with the love of God.
Thanks be to God.